Idaho government officials pledge to be transparent about how government agencies are spending millions of lawsuit settlement dollars to help combat opioid addiction and abuse.
The Gem State has received $26 million to date from opioid settlement funds. Less than half of those funds went directly to the state, $8 million was set aside for cities and counties and another $5.8 million was directed to the state’s seven regional public health districts.
The funds come from opioid manufacturers, distributors and retailers who settled lawsuits with states for more than $54 billion for their role in the epidemic of opioid abuse, which is linked to 75% of reported drug overdoses in America in 2020. Opioid settlement funds have little oversight, KFF Health News reports, which has drawn comparisons to massive settlements that tobacco companies paid to states that had few restrictions.
Few of those dollars have been spent so far in Idaho. But another round of spending reports are due in two months, which will detail what money was spent locally throughout fiscal year 2023, which ran from July 2022 to June 2023.
“We are at the very beginning,” Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen said in an interview about the opioid settlement funds.
And this process could take a long time.
Idaho promises to tell the public how it spends settlement money
Idaho will receive its final payments in 2038, if the companies who agreed to settlements with Idaho don’t prepay, said Stephanie Guyon, deputy attorney general in the consumer protection division of the Office of the Attorney General.
All Idaho local government agencies that received funds are required to file financial reports by the end of September that will later be published by the Idaho Attorney General’s Office. That level of transparency is rare, national reporting suggests, two years into states receiving settlement funds.
Need to get in touch?
Have a news tip?
Only 15 states say they will report all opioid settlement fund spending, according to OpioidSettlementTracker.com. Idaho has promised full public reporting, while 18 states have pledged reporting some figures and 17 states have not publicly committed yet, according to the tracker, which collaborated with KFF Health News.
State and local governments have received more than $3 billion so far. Payments began in 2022, KFF Health News reports.
In 2021, 353 Idahoans died from drug overdoses, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare reports. Opioids were tied to 241 of those deaths.
How much money Idaho is due from the opioid settlements?
Idaho is expecting to receive millions of dollars over the next several years. In total, Idaho is set to receive nearly $217.8 million across all settlements, but about $90 million is pending additional settlements. Idaho is slated to receive $127.8 million with the current settlements in place.
Idaho’s settlement money goes into three pools: 40% goes to the state, 40% to cities and counties, and 20% to health districts.
The Idaho Attorney General’s office has finalized opioid settlements with three pharmaceutical distributors, two manufacturers and one consulting firm. The state anticipates finalizing five more settlements involving two additional manufacturers and three pharmacy chains.
In total, 75 Idaho local and regional government agencies — including cities, counties and the state’s seven regional health districts — are eligible to receive funds. Here’s the full list of eligible agencies. That list includes all 44 Idaho counties, all seven public health districts and 24 cities.
No opioid funds were spent at the state level in fiscal years 2022 and 2023, said Madison Hardy, spokesperson for the Idaho governor’s office. That last fiscal year ended June 30. The Legislature, following Gov. Brad Little’s recommendation, appropriated opioid funds to be spent in fiscal year 2024, which just began this month. But it mostly relied on funds from sources other than the settlements to fund projects suggested by the Idaho Behavioral Health Council, a group co-chaired by Jeppesen that guides how the state spends opioid settlement funds.
Idaho estimates receiving $2 million each year for the state’s portion of the opioid settlement funds going forward.
What’s been reported so far?
Financial reports were filed for 31 government agencies who received funds in fiscal year 2022, which ended June 2022, but Guyon noted that many agencies did not spend any funds that year.
Any local government agency that receives funds must submit a financial report to the Idaho Attorney General’s Office, whether they spent them or not, Guyon said. The office plans to publish each year’s reports on its website, which lists the settlement funds Idaho has received so far and describes the process.
The Idaho Behavioral Health Council, which recommends how the state should spend its share of the funds, recommended a slate of projects for this fiscal year to combat opioid abuse, including funds for housing initiatives, community recovery centers, inpatient treatment and a new program for Idaho’s courts.
The projects that were funded by the state pulled from various pools of money — with only less than $2 million of the $89 million group of projects funded by opioid settlement funds.
Central District Health ramps up personnel for programming
Cities and counties, rather than spending the funds themselves, can reallocate their money to their public health districts. So far this year, 12 counties and cities have sent a total of $191,000 money to their local health districts, according to recently released data by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Central District Health, which is receiving the largest sum of money compared to all local government agencies in Idaho, has received $1.5 million so far, said Rebecca Sprague, public health program manager at the district. But it has only spent $200,000, mostly on personnel costs to build up programs that would complement efforts that are already taking place in the communities it serves in Ada, Boise, Elmore and Valley counties. That includes ramping up its clinic to offer more treatment for opioid use disorders.
Funds from the settlements must be spent to combat opioid addiction or abuse, as reported previously in the Idaho Statesman, but the state’s defined goals for the funds are broad. Sprague said that’s important in Idaho, where the opioid epidemic might look very different in bustling cities like Boise compared to rural communities.
“It’s not going to be a one-sized-fits-all,” Sprague said, adding that “We are using our funds in a way that we have learned will probably make a really big impact, will fill in the gaps that we know of.”
If you have questions about how your local government is spending this money, Sprague encourages you to call your elected officials.
Eastern Idaho Public Health, a health district that spans eight counties that include Idaho Falls and Rexburg, has spent less than $1,100 of the more than $664,000 it has received so far, health education specialist Mallory Johnson said in an email.
“With the use of the opioid settlement funds, Eastern Idaho Public Health is excited to expand current programming,” she said, which includes drug overdose prevention programming, trainings on how to use the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone, drug take back events and more. “EIPH has strived to be careful and strategic with how opioid settlement funds are utilized and has spent time developing a strategic plan” and a committee to guide spending.
What’s to come?
Jeppesen, who co-chairs the Idaho Behavioral Health Council that recommends to Gov. Little how to spend the state’s portion of settlement funds, said the state hopes to get a picture down the road of how successful the funds have been at slowing Idaho’s opioid epidemic. But generally, he said, the funds will have been a success if they help create better, comprehensive treatment for people struggling with addiction and prevent new addictions.
The Idaho Behavioral Health Council meets next on Aug. 11 to consider suggestions for state projects. Eighty ideas in 29 different categories came in from public feedback, which Jeppesen said the council will narrow to a handful of items that it’ll suggest the Legislature fund when they return to the Idaho Statehouse next year.